Arctic Carbon Cycle Is Speeding Up, Study Finds

Posted: Aug 4 2018, 5:12am CDT | by , Updated: Aug 6 2018, 12:07am CDT , in Latest Science News


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Arctic Carbon Cycle is Speeding Up, Study Finds
Alaska's North Slope tundra ecosystems. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Carbon in Alaska's North Slope spends about 13 percent less time locked in frozen soil than it did 40 years ago.

Arctic stores a substantial amount of carbon dioxide in its permafrost soil. Warming temperatures are exposing this frozen soil carbon to microbial decomposition which in turn increase carbon dioxide release in the atmosphere. Now, researchers have found that this vast reservoir of carbon stored in the Arctic is entering the atmosphere at an increasing rate, possibly due to the region’s rapid warming.

Study of Alaska's North Slope tundra ecosystems shows that the carbon there spends about 13 percent less time locked in frozen soil than it did 40 years ago. It means that carbon cycle in this region is speeding up and releasing carbon at a pace more associated with a North American boreal forest.

“Warming temperatures mean that essentially we have one ecosystem -- the tundra -- developing some of the characteristics of a different ecosystem -- a boreal forest," said study co-author Anthony Bloom of NASA JPL. “While various factors regulate how fast this transformation will continue to occur, studies using Landsat and MODIS satellite imagery with field measurements over the past decades have observed a northward migration of shrubs and trees."

Tundra shrubs provide crucial information enhancing the understanding of Arctic environment. They are sensitive to climate change. Since Arctic stores large amounts of carbon in frozen soil, any change in the amount of carbon released in this region is of huge global concern.

Shrubs grow more when temperatures are warmer. Their increased quantity can change the cycling of nutrients and carbon in soil, allowing microbes to break down previously frozen organic matter and affecting the amount of carbon released to the atmosphere. The whole process can upset the balance of natural carbon cycle and contribute to climate warming well beyond the Arctic.

As the temperature increases, the amount of time carbon stored in the Arctic soil also decreases.

“The balance between these two dynamics will determine whether Arctic ecosystems will ultimately remove or add atmospheric carbon dioxide in the future climate. Our study finds that the latter is more likely," said lead author and former JPL researcher Sujong Jeong of Seoul National University. "We anticipate that residence time of Arctic carbon will lead to faster and more pronounced seasonal and long-term changes in global atmospheric carbon dioxide.

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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